Free Port A “Slaughter Zone” for Liberian Businesses

PATEL Trade Union Acting Chairman, Dominic Nimley (center), addressing the press in Monrovia

-PATEL trade union asserts

The Acting Chairman of PATEL, Dominic Nimley, has described the Freeport of Monrovia as a slaughter zone for Liberian businesses. He said  very high tariffs imposed by the APM terminals as well as double taxation on goods entering the country are unresolved challenges that are gradually killing Liberian businesses.

Mr. Nimley said the Freeport of Monrovia is a slaughter zone for Liberian businesses because its operations are taking most locals out of business. There are new measures that are currently being introduced at the Port that are inimical to the survival of local businesses, he noted.

“Freeport is a slaughter zone for us the local business people. Initially, we had 21 days to put our containers out of the port. Unfortunately, this was reduced to 14 days, then 7 days and now we only have five days. The port’s authorities have even threatened to reduce it to three days. This is unfair,” Mr. Nimley noted.

It is no secret that the major source of finance for most of the local entrepreneurs is through bank loans and these come with high-interest rates. And to import goods in the country, it takes about two months—with the loans payments on their heads.

But with all of these, Nimley said, the charges for clearing at the port is very exorbitant, even far beyond what some local entrepreneurs put in their businesses.

“The most embarrassing thing is that there are about six or seven persons on that container which has a total principal fund of most of the containers is US$20K and unfortunately customs charge about US$25K to US$30K to clear the container, but we say no. this is too much,” he said. “These materials that our brothers and sisters are importing are not the high-quality materials so why can’t we take all of these into consideration before charging that high?”

“We all know these clothes are not original so please stop killing our people with exorbitant charges. It is hurting us and putting many of our people out of businesses.”

“If you are doing this to us the banks and other institutions out there will be spoiling our names that we don’t pay debt and it becomes a stigma. How is it possible to make a profit with these high costs of making business? How can we pay our debt if the principal of a container is US$15K and you are charging US$25K to clear?” he asked.

He called on President Weah to draw the Freeport into his focus with the view to addressing some of these issues. “For the last twelve years, we gave these complaints to the past administration, we were always promised that our plight would be addressed but to no avail,” he said.

It may be recalled that PATEL, which currently goes by the name (PATEL Trade Union), staged a protest last year that shut down Monrovia, paralyzing normal activities for days.  PATEL was protesting against conditions that were inimical to the existence of local businesses. They could no longer bear the high tariffs and incidental tariffs that were placed on goods imported by Liberian businesses at the port.

The trade union chairman noted that the 100 percent retailer right that is exclusively for Liberian businesses is still being violated blatantly. “The most frustrating part is that these foreigners are being assisted by people who are in top positions.”

“If you come into this country as an investor, you have to sit on the investor bench. You cannot be an investor and at the same time be doing wholesale and retail. These things do not happen in our neighboring countries, why only Liberia? Why don’t we respect our people and our laws?” he asked rather rhetorically.

He called on the president to look into Freeport and regulate some of these issues. “For the last twelve years, we gave these complaints to the past administration, we were always promised that our plights would be addressed but to no avail,” he said.

Meanwhile reports quoting credible sources at the Free Port of Monrovia say workers of the APM Terminals have resolved to resume a go slow strike action in protest against poor working conditions and bad labor practices by the APM Terminals. The Daily Observer has also learned that the Dock Workers Union as well as the Liberia Labor Congress have expressed solidarity with the action taken by the APM workers.

Mr. David Sackor, principal spokesperson of the Labor Congress in an interview with the Daily Observer said although his organization is in solidarity with the APM workers, they are pursuing redress without the active involvement of the Labor Congress.

According to him the APM workers run the risk of having their management ignore their concerns if they fail to enlist the solidarity of sister unions and their umbrella organization and fully mobilize their support for their go-slow action.

Reacting to questions about alleged shoddy treatment and disrespect shown to the aggrieved workers by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, a spokesperson for the Vice President,  Deputy Chief of Office staff, one Titus confirmed that the Vice President did visit the port to hold discussions with workers and management but declined to say whether she had actually made those denigrating remarks attributed to her.

According to sources, Vice President Taylor had told the workers on Monday that rather than complaining, they should instead be grateful to the APM Terminals for providing them jobs at a time when thousands of their compatriots are out of work.

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